Street Fighter 2 dropped in 1991, 25 years ago this month, revolutionizing the way we played video games. It was such a phenomenal change to not only the way we played, but the way we thought of both multiplayer games & the 2D plane.
As a gaming juggernaut of its day, it ended up receiving 6 title updates (Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting in '92, The New Challengers in '93, Super Turbo in '94, Hyper Street Fighter II in '03, and HD Remix in '08) and being ported across over 10 platforms to date. This game is THE legend, and being its 25th anniversary is just one of many reasons to take a look back at the magic that started everything. It's one of the most influential games of all time, and unquestionably the most influential fighting game. It was the craze that spawned every fighting game you and I have played and enjoyed. It introduced the concept of fighting another person, it perfected life and meter placement, it cemented the concept of spacing/footsies in our minds, and expanded the notion of what was possible for both the players of a game and spectators.
People tend to compare fighting games to chess when explaining their complex competitive nature to outsiders. It's a comparison I'm sure some of you've heard made at least once before, however most of the time I don't feel like the comparison is fair. It usually boils down to needing a quick reference point for tournament players/spectators to get the point across to someone who isn't as invested. If one wanted to use that comparison regardless, I would say the closest fighting game I've ever played to chess is actually Super Turbo. The "board" of ST is incredibly basic, as the game doesn't have very many mechanics in place that have much bearing on a match. Every character can jump, kick, punch, block, grab, perform supers, and that's it for the most part. There are no extra mechanics for defense or offense. The game is what it is, and whether or not you win depends on how you move the pieces of the board.
Another aspect that attributed to the success, aside from all the revolutionary gameplay, was the heavily artistic nature of the game. The stages were all iconic, flashy, and caught the eye of anyone passing by the arcade cabinet. Before SF2, characters on a 2D plane just didn't look like this. Sprites tended to look clunky, being stiff or just plain awkward. The art team behind SF2 was ahead of the curve, like they seemed to so often be at the time. The art team knew how to take attacks and portray them in a way that perfectly stylized them on an arcade screen. Taking a look at one of the Street Fighter clones of the time, like Fighter's History for example, it's clear how hard it was for even someone biting SF2's style to get movements right.
As far as playing the game goes, moving your character and utilizing their buttons accurately are well emphasized. Since your character has no dash, double jump, or defensive mechanics, you are heavily reliant on your normal buttons to attain victory. Some characters have game changing specials or supers, like a move to go through fireballs, get out of pressure, or create powerful pressure, but the majority of the game is played with your normals for many characters. Knowing the range of yours and your opponents moves are important in every game, paying attention to spacing is just a fact of most of competitive gaming, but in SF2 this is more vital than any other game I've played.
One big thing about ST that plays differently than many other more current fighters is require you, the player, to be in position ahead of time. You can know what button to hit to knock them out of the air, or know which button is your good jump attack or poke attack, but the most important thing is to position yourself before the conflict even begins. Some clear examples of this are tactics like Safe Jumping, Option Selects, Meaty Attacks, and Counter Picking. All of those concepts and practices operate under the notion of already knowing a situation, positioning yourself ahead of time to put as much of it in your favor as possible. Most of the things I named are present in other current fighters, but they appear much more powerfully in this game than in it's descendants.
There are many broken things in this game, and winning relies solely on you, the player, understanding which situations and characters are broken. After coming to this understanding, it's up to you to do your utmost to avoid being put into situations that are impossible or nearly impossible to get out of, as well as abuse your own character's most powerful and oppressive tactics. This game was the origin of how we perceive the genre, as well as the origin of the Play To Win and Domination (There's a series of Dom 101 articles) mentality that many players keep with them to this day. In a game filled with broken tactics and neigh-unwinnable situations, the only way to come out on top is to utilize every broken mechanic of your character better than your opponent.
One part of actually playing the game that's interesting is how many of the forms and functions of the meta that is currently played in the game was completely unintentional by the developer, at least at first. Not that a developer can predict the way people will play a game 25 years later, but since they were charting new territory there were a lot of things the team discovered on the way. Combos being an 'accident' is probably the most well known thing pioneered by SF2, but things like crossups, overheads and lows, invincibility frames, blockstun, hitstun, hitstop, input leniency, negative edge, all these baseline aspects of even the simplest game today were new and uncharted territory of the day. No one of the time could have predicted the impact the mechanics and functions of the game would have on how it's played today.
That all being said, I don't like playing the game. I understand how revolutionary the game was, as well as the way the game works. I understand how to play it. Even still, if you put me in a room with this game and any other Street Fighter/KOF/GG/Soul Calibur/Tekken/BB/Anime-Game of any sort, and I'm likely playing the other game. Not because Super Turbo is "bad", though a bit random and buggy, but it's too basic a game with too much wrong by today's standards for my tastes.
Much of the praise that Street Fighter 2 gets is in defining the way we play against each other. Punching, kicking, comboing, jumping, jump attacking, throwing, knocking down the opponent, all of these concepts were already put forth by beat em ups like the Double Dragon series. All of the magic came from making these concepts easy, and crafting them together in a 1v1 game. Life bars were also already in existence, as well as special moves introduced through Street Fighter 1 and Final Fight. Super Moves were also introduced by Samurai Showdown, which Capcom quickly adapted for Super Turbo. In fact, the shift in the way developers made games most likely started with the very successful Final Fight before SF2 came out, but SF2 is still incredibly special. Between functionally making the game easier for the players, making the game more fun, and in general just thinking about the player's needs, Capcom tried and succeeded at taking everything we had and making something new out of it.
I see the game itself as broken, buggy, stiff, and uninteresting from a player's viewpoint no matter how hard I try to look at it differently. Despite that viewpoint, I understand that it does come down to me being spoiled by what this game gave us. It's hard for me to conceptualize, but before SF2 there weren't 6 button arcade machines. Lenient inputs for moves and specials weren't a thing in anyone's mind. Combos weren't a thing. A choice between more than one character wasn't really a thing, and using your personalized character to fight your friends surely wasn't. Everything that I, as well as many other newer players, take for granted in fighting games started here.
As far as whether or not I would recommend the game? Well. Despite not enjoying the game, it has value to me. As someone trying to expand their view on competitive gaming, this old school classic has a lot to teach. If you have a habit of getting upset at cheap or broken characters, or have a habit of not using a character to their fullest because of the other easier ways to play, this game could help. I'm learning to make the most of a character, trying to exploit them rather than simply playing them. This change of perspective will certainly help me in the future, and I'm already starting to see the effects of my shift in mentality.
However, I have to add... assuming you haven't played this game when you were younger, with no fond nostalgic memories, and you aren't looking to expand your game, should you play SF2? I look at it like seeing the first airplane. It's fantastic and beutiful, worthy of respect. But personally, if given the choice I'm flying in a standard and modern airliner to get where I need to go. It was enlightening to take a ride in an older model, most definitely, but there are many current titles that give all the things that SF2 gave us while adding other unique and interesting attributes. For non-competitive players, the only reason to play Super Turbo would probably be to take a look through history. If you want something that's pretty, that plays well, that's balanced, that promotes footsies, or that has Street Fighter characters in it, there will always be a better choice for something to play.
Remember, love what you play & play what you love.